Senior Dems Already Refusing PAC Money From Bailed-Out Banks — Could it Work For the Whole Party?

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As Washington slowly catches on to the simmering wave of populist anger at bailed-out banks, House Democrats are considering an admirably drastic step ahead of next year’s midterm elections. Per Roll Call, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is weighing whether to issue official guidance to lawmakers on turning down donations from banks that are receiving taxpayer aid.

Roll Call also reveals that several senior Democrats are already saying no to campaign cash from bailout recipients, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank (D-MA), and Reps. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), Ed Perlmutter (D-CO), Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY), and John Campbell (R-CA).

Senate Banking Commitee Chairman Chris Dodd (D-CT) is also eschewing money from the political action committees (PACs) of bailed-out banks — an even more surprising gesture given that he is up for re-election in 2010 and likely to face a well-funded GOP challenger.

The political optics of these lawmakers’ decision to refuse bailout-linked donations, however, raises another question: just how much are they giving up? Is it really that meaningful, or just a good PR move? Here’s the answer.Looking at how much the top 20 recipients of bank bailout money donated to each of the seven lawmakers who are now turning down their campaign cash, we can see that the seven aren’t likely to suffer too much for their sacrifice.

Frank and Pelosi have the most to lose, based on numbers for the 2008 election. The PACs of Wall Street’s top 20 bailout beneficiaries gave Frank $67,500 and Pelosi $60,000 — small potatoes compared with Frank’s $2.2 million overall fundraising haul and Pelosi’s $2.9 million.

Maloney and McCarthy are both mentioned as potential challengers to newly appointed New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), meaning that they could need every donation they can get this year. But even if you doubled Maloney’s 2008 donation total of $46,500 from the top 20 bailed-out banks, it would still be less than 5.5% of her complete fundraising intake, which was $1.7 million.

McCarthy got even less from the biggest bailout beneficiaries: only $21,500 out of a total of $1.3 million raised for 2008. (All data is courtesy of the Center for Responsive Politics.)

Perlmutter is in a similar boat, netting a modest $36,250 from the top 20 bailout beneficiaries while raising $1.8 million overall for 2008. Campbell, the only GOPer publicly turning down TARP-linked money, raised just $19,500 from the bailout’s top banks, or less than 2% of his $1 million fundraising total.

Although Van Hollen himself is not mentioned by Roll Call as already turning down bailout-linked contributions, he’d be even less put out by making the gesture. The DCCC chairman got only $19,500 from the top 20 TARP recipients in 2008, while raising $2.3 million.

Adding in contributions from individual employees of bailed-out banks could swell the above numbers, but are unlikely to substantially skew them. It looks like turning down donations from bailed-out banks is a good bet for House Democrats — it provides maximum bang for their campaign buck without truly derailing the party’s fundraising juggernaut.

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